Monday, July 30, 2018


It's been a few months since I last flew, and I am feeling a bit restless. Unfortunately, Pegasus field is way overgrown with weeds - won't be cut until fall - and HARA is still awaiting our first launch at our new HPR field, which also won't occur until September or October. So I am kinda out of luck, unless I can locate a free spot of ground for a quick launch fix. In the meantime, I am going to have to content myself with building rockets, in anticipation of returning to flying in a couple of months.

So, what have I been doing?

1) Took advantage of a very rare low humidity weekend to apply paint to the Centuri Stellar Starlifter clone. However, I had trouble with the sky blue Testor's enamel (what else is new?) - the model surface has a sandpaper-like texture, which means sanding and a recoat. After I wait the requisite 3 days, naturally... Did I mention I hate enamels?

2) Applied primer to the Estes Boy Scout Rocket (rebranded Ricochet).

3) Applied the first coat of paint to my 1st Geezer TARC entry, the single motor Reliant. Gloss white is now on, color coats to come when the humidity drops once again. It should have already been finished, but the thought of sanding the primer off that big TARC rocket was enough to send me into a fit of procrastination. Only exceptionally good weather and the beginnings of schedule pressure could induce me into "gittin' er done" so I could move on to the paint. I really do hate sanding.

The Artemis - My 2nd entry for Geezer TARC (Click to enlarge).
4) Started building my 2nd Geezer TARC entry, the Artemis. It's a 4 motor cluster that resembles a Saturn. I had told myself I was not going to fall prey to the Apollo theme of this year's TARC, but in the end it was just too much to resist. I am pretty happy with the design, actually.

The Artemis as of Monday night (Click to enlarge).
5) Built my prototype 1/4A parachute duration rocket for the coming NRC season. I am trying to keep it as light as possible, but in a bout of senility, I primed it just like any of my other models. Duh... Now to sand the primer off, and hope that I can get a finished model well under 10 grams. After I finish this bird, I will move on to designing and building a prototype for B payload altitude.

My 1/4 A Parachute Duration prototype (Click to enlarge).

So still staying busy, but alas, no flying. Gotta find a field somewhere.

Friday, July 20, 2018

What to do on muggy summer days...

Midsummer is a frustrating time - the days are hot and muggy, with humidities 60% and higher - lately, MUCH higher. One cannot paint in such conditions, as the paint will "blush", causing the finish to appear blotchy. So my models patiently sit in primer, awaiting drier days. Which is not good, as I have a policy that no more than two rockets can be in primer at the same time, to avoid the overbuilding problems of the past. However, one cannot stay idle, so what am I to do? The answer came to me this past weekend - build some of the almost ready to fly (ARTF) or E2X kits in my collection. They are pre-painted and assemble in under an hour, so no adding to the backlog.  A perfect task for stormy summer afternoons.

ARTF or E2X kits are built using most of the standard build set - ruler, scissors, tape, hobby knife, and white glue. You don't need sand paper, and Plastic Weld is used to glue the plastic parts together and CA gel to join plastic components like fin cans to the body tube. Construction is quick and easy, and I put the models together while watching old movies ("Captain Blood", "When Worlds Collide"). Last weekend's builds were the MPC Duck Dodgers X-2 Invader and Cadet Cruiser, the Estes Banshee and Alpha VI, and an Estes-made Space Center Houston payload rocket.

MPC X-2 Invader and Cadet Cruiser (Click to enlarge).
I rather liked building the MPC kits - the body wraps are nice, with the X-2 Invader featuring Marvin the Martian, and the Cadet Cruiser sporting Porky the Pig's mug. The plastic parts are of good quality and fit well, with the only negatives being the flimsy motor tube, motor hook, and the hard plastic launch lugs, which seem to keep falling off the body tube no matter what glue is used (I finally fixed the issue with 5 minute epoxy). The shock cords were also way, way too short and had to be replaced.

The Estes Banshee build was straightforward - the only problems I encountered were getting the fins to adhere to the body tube with Plastic Weld (CA gel fixed this) and the fact that the orange stickers are too translucent for the black body tube. The Space Center Houston rocket went together with absolutely no problems, though I do not like the off-white payload section base - should be glossy like the body tube or blue like the nose.

Estes Space Center Houston Payloader, Alpha VI, and Banshee (Click to enlarge).
The Estes Alpha VI is the company's 60th anniversary model, sporting a candy apple red fin can and nose cone, along with a very prominent anniversary logo. However, the preprinted body tube was so flimsy that it had already begun to unwrap while still in the package, so I cut a matching length of BT-50, which I primed and painted gloss white. Consequently, this build took longer than 30 minutes, but if you discount the time I spent in readying a new body tube, it went super fast - the model was assembled in less than 15 minutes. 5 rockets finished in a weekend - not bad, and it definitely beats doing nothing rocket-wise.

Unfortunately the weather forecast indicates many more days of the same muggy weather - and I am getting low on ARTF/E2X kits to build...

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Second time around...

My 30+ year old competition rockets (Click to enlarge)
During the first 25 years or so of model rocketry, the elite rocketeer was not one who had completed a level 3 certification involving a rocket propelled by a M class motor (such things did not exist, except in the wildest dreams of rocketdom). Back then, the "big boys" (and girls) were those belonging to the ranks of competition rocketeers, who built and flew models that tried to milk every ounce of performance from low power black power motors. In doing so, they made use of the lightest weight materials they could find - thin vacuform plastic nose cones, bakelite, vellum, and thin cardboard tubes, and 1/32" thick plywood fins of clipped delta or elliptical shapes. Rockets made from these were launched from rods using pop launch lugs, or towers, or pistons (used by the most driven competitors). The elite assembled in regional meets sponsored by NAR sections, vying to accumulate points for themselves, their teams, and/or their sections, keeping a constant eye towards the NAR's annual meet (NARAM), where the best of the best challenged each other. Winning the national championship was the epitome of the hobby in those years, and the rocketeers who did so earned it by sweat and tears (not much blood, save that caused by hobby knife cuts).

Summary of my first regional meet back in May of 1975 (Click to enlarge).
In my senior year of high school, I decided to throw my hat into the ring, and see how far my skills could take me up the competition ladder. So I built a couple of models based on the Estes Sprint and eagerly thumbed through each newly-arrived Model Rocketeer magazine, looking for a regional meet reasonably close by. In May of 1975, I got my chance - there was a regional, the Music City Competitors Annual Regional-1 (MCCAR-1), going to be held in Nashville on the 3rd and 4th of the month. I persuaded my dad to make the 2 hour drive to the launch site, where I joined about twenty other rocketeers under a canopy, waiting for the rain to stop. This happened about mid-morning, and I eagerly readied my streamer duration entry, loading an Estes B motor into the rear of the model and stuffing into the front the longest crepe paper streamer I could find. The model flew ok, and I logged a qualified flight duration of 27 seconds, which, amazingly was good enough to net me 4th place in A division. I also placed 4th in Class 1 Parachute Duration, so I finished in both events I entered - a good beginning, and I was pretty happy schlepping about in my waterlogged tennis shoes. I learned a quite a few lessons from watching the other rocketeers at MCCAR-1, some of which have stuck with me through the decades:
  • Estes parts may get you an occasional win in duration events, but they ain't going to cut it in other event types. Build lighter.
  • Ditch the launch lug - pop lugs are the minimum, and pistons or tower/piston combinations are best.
  • Competition rocketeers are not so friendly during competitions - they are trying to ready their birds for a win, and usually don't have much time to chat with newbies. Also, bear in mind that you are potentially their competition, so don't expect helpful hints. Learn by watching, not by asking.
  • Egglofting events have high entertainment value - especially the dual events. Lots of messes.
Competition Model Rocket (CMR) Rapier flown at NARAM-30 (Click to enlarge).
That was my one and only regional; I went off to college in the fall of 75, and used my free time during breaks to do sport flying. I did manage to fly at NARAM-30 in Huntsville (1988), where I sucked in a most supreme fashion. My only good thing about NARAM-30 was that it was my first introduction to what we now call high power rocketry, thanks to Matt Steele and his company, North Coast Rocketry. And so it was that my very weak attempts to participate in competition rocketry came to an end. Over the next three decades I read about competitions in the NAR magazines, noting that the ranks of competitors thinned out greatly over time, with the winner lists being dominated by the same people over and over again. And read about it was all I did - My reluctance to getting my butt kicked, plus the fact that the competition folks seemed to have gotten more unfriendly over the years, caused me to give it a wide berth. I'll take sport launches, with friendly and (mostly) happy folks flying for fun any day of the week.

Until now...

At last year's NARCON, I listened to a talk about the newly agreed upon revision to NAR competition. It sounded like NAR had finally gotten the message, creating a team of experts to breathe new life into competition flying. This panel established something called the National Rocket Competition (NRC), which consists of 6 events chosen annually from an approved list. These events are all low power, like 1/4 A Parachute Duration, 1/4 A Helicopter Duration, A Boost Glider, B Payload Altitude, B Eggloft Duration, and C Eggloft Altitude, which means they don't require a big flying field and can be done by anyone who can build an Estes kit - as matter of fact, Estes makes a couple of rockets that could be flown in this year's events (the B & C Eggloft and 1/4 A Helicopter Duration. The egglofter is way heavy, but it will at least turn in a qualifying flight). But the best thing about the NRC is that you no longer have to travel long distances to compete. All it takes are two NAR rocketeers (one of whom must be 21 or over) to set up and fly a NRC launch, after which the scores are logged onto a web-based national scoreboard, for all the world to see. You can fly any event as often as you wish, and can even specialize in certain events. I love this concept, even though I know a lot of old-school competitors are unhappy with it because a) it diminishes the importance of sections, and b) there are no craftsmanship events like scale in the NRC (even though a contest director may choose to have them as part of his launch). Change does not come easy, especially in the face of decades-old traditions.

I am going to give the NRC a try - It will give me a chance to work on some new skills, and enables me to fly competition events at Pegasus field with interested members of my section. That sounds like a lot of fun!

Did I mention egg lofting events have high entertainment value?

You can read more about the NRC here. Consider giving it a try!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Stormy Saturday with the Cubs...

The day starts clear at the Space Camp field (Click to enlarge).
I normally hate getting up early on Saturday, but yesterday I started the morning with some level of enthusiasm; it was launch day with the cub scouts, and no rocketeer can resist being excited about the prospect of attending a morning AND an afternoon launch. Double headers are a good thing!

Some cubs in Pack 351 hold aloft their rockets (Click to enlarge).
First up was Pack 351, at the Space Camp launch field on the grounds of the Space and Rocket Center. It was clear when Chuck and I arrived - soon to be joined by John and Duane - but the clouds gradually increased, heralding approaching storms. Fortunately, the weather stayed away long enough for the cub scouts to launch their rockets (some multiple times) - about 40 took to the air, with only 2 lost to the rocket eating trees on the field's northern boundary. We had brought the HARA trailer, but did not have to use our equipment, as the scout leaders had arranged with Space Camp to use the camp pads and controllers. This reduced our job to just helping the scouts load the rack - enabling me to enjoy the flights and to take plenty of pictures.

One of the Space Camp launch controllers (Click to enlarge).
John makes the final ignitor hook up (Click to enlarge).A rack of Cub rockets (Click to enlarge).
A cub gets ready to launch his bird after donning the
required Space Camp regalia (Click to enlarge).
Spaceship 1 heads skyward (Click to enlarge).
You never know what is going to show up at a Pack 351 launch. There were plenty of Estes RTF Sizzlers (apparently some freebies acquired by the pack) along with the usual Code Reds, Skywriters, Dragonites, and Shuttle Express. Saturday's launch also saw an Estes Spaceship 1 (which actually put in a stable flight), a 1980's style Scrambler, and Estes SkyTrax with a Lego Stormtrooper as a passenger in the clear payload section. I was intrigued by the stormtrooper, as he looked as if he were bent over in pain or fear - probably the latter. The surprise of the launch was a scratch built Batroc, with a Batman head for a nose cone and fins shaped like bat wings. This superb creation was severely underpowered on an A8-3, and Batman almost ended up with a nose full of dirt. Fortunately, the parachute popped about 10 feet off the ground, much to the relief of the spectators.

Stormtrooper passenger (Click to enlarge).The stormtrooper starts his journey (Click to enlarge).
Scratch Batroc on the pad (Click to enlarge).The Batroc struggles to gain altitude (Click to enlarge).
The pack's motors were mostly gone by 10:30, and we all beat a hasty retreat to our homes, as the approaching storms were looking pretty ugly on weather radar. Things had settled out a bit by 2 PM, so Duane and I trekked down to Holy Spirit Church to help Pack 361 with their launch. Another member of our club, Fletcher Cannon, was running this launch and we arrived just in time to assist the scouts in building their rockets. Duane was especially welcome, as he brought some much needed super glue; fortunately there were no stuck-together fingers or other mishaps during the build session, which didn't take long at all. Fletcher had a wooden Tilt-A-Pad clone built by Duane, an Estes Porta Pad, and two Estes controllers, which proved more than adequate for the 8 or so rockets that were launched. The cubs even managed to get a respectable drag race between two of the rockets, which was pretty neat given the difficulties with the low voltage/low current Estes controllers. The church field, though a bit damp, proved to be more than adequate for the 13 mm powered rockets, with no rocket casualties recorded. We were not able to launch more than a few minutes, as storms were once again closing on Huntsville. Even so, the scouts had fun launching their rockets, which is the goal.

Pack 361 working on their rockets (Click to enlarge).
A newly-built rocket gets moving (Click to enlarge).
Drag race between 2 cub rockets (Click to enlarge).
Looking forward to doing this again next year!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

A good piece of mail...

The Longshots (Click to enlarge)
The US Postal Service never ceases to amaze me - I can get a rocket part order from Ohio and Nevada in just 2 days, and sometimes it can take forever for a card to arrive from my sister in Chattanooga. A few days back, I received an envelope postmarked 4 weeks ago from here in Huntsville. Inside was a photo of the Saint John Paul II Longshots TARC team (shown above), and a card addressed to me. For those of you who don't remember, the Longshots were the only TARC team from Huntsville to make the TARC Finals back in May (see my April 8 post). Once there, they did well in the first round, placing 12th out of the 100 teams competing and advancing to the second round of flights. Unfortunately, they didn't do so well in the second round, missing the altitude goal by over 100 feet. Even though they didn't make it into the top 10, the Longshots put in a fabulous performance for a first year team, especially a team of freshmen.

So here is the card I received - things like this make me glad I'm involved with TARC!

You did indeed do us proud - Looking forward to seeing you on the field in the coming season!

Building the Shrox Sniple - Part 3, Paint and Decals

The gray primer was allowed to dry for several days - This being the humid South, it takes longer for primer/paint to dry, and I am not fond of gummed up sandpaper. I then sanded off the primer with 320 grit sandpaper, and applied a coat of white primer, which was also allowed to dry for a long time.  This coat was sanded smooth with 400 grit, after which 2 coats of Krylon glossy white were sprayed on. This being done, I proceeded to masking the model for the gray paint.

Masking is a necessity if you are going to build rockets, and it is very important to pick the right tape to use. Some folks like Chris Michielssen are possessed of a magical ability to get very nice mask lines using scotch or cellophane tape; alas I have no such ability, as evidenced by my long ago fiascos involving these tape types. I rapidly migrated to Tamiya masking tape, which is much more expensive, but has the advantage in that it consistently yields sharp masking lines (no bleeds) with very little effort. In my opinion, it's well worth the expense; you can buy it at local hobby stores or online from numerous vendors.

Sniple masked and ready for the gray paint (Click to enlarge).
After letting the base coat dry overnight, I masked off the areas of the body tube that needed to remain white with the Tamiya tape, and shot the unmasked regions with 2 coats of Krylon Smoke Gray. I would have preferred a lighter shade, but this was the only can I had in my stash and I just went with it. Krylon dries quickly, so I peeled off the tape after about 30 minutes and set the model aside to dry overnight. While it was drying, I printed the decals using my ink jet printer, waited 30 minutes, and sprayed 3 light coats of Krylon Acrylic Clear on the decal sheet. I cut out the decals the next day and applied them to the model, soaking each in warm water for about a minute. I wish I could say this part went smoothly, but I had difficulty with the Chinese red star and bars. These 2 decals cracked in the middle during application, forcing me to use a red marker to hide the cracks after they dried. I am probably going to remove these and apply new ones the next time I print a sheet of decals - the marker red is a little off.

Here is the finished Sniple, ready for its first flight:

Shrox Sniple (Click to enlarge).

One other thing went wrong during this build... In order to improve the stability margin, I decided to play safe and put 20 grams of clay (originally I was going with 10) into the nose cone. 20 grams is a surprisingly big amount of clay, and I cracked the lower part of the nose cone while packing it in. This was fixed by an application of Plastic Weld to the cracked area, a little sanding, a bit of Squadron Putty, and a little more sanding. I will be more careful with Apogee nose cones in the future, as some of them are more fragile than those made by Estes.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

My first Geezer TARC rocket for 2018...

I was suffering from rocket burnout last year at the time of the release of the TARC rules, so I did not get around to building my Geezer TARC rocket until the latter part of Summer. Normally I build two to maximize my chances, but I started so late that I could only complete one before the launch. I have determined I shall not repeat last year, so I got to work designing as soon as the rules for TARC 2019 came out earlier this month. Four completed designs are now stored on my computer, but I am only satisfied that one - christened the Reliant - is sufficiently well thought out to construct. Another will make the grade soon enough, but it'll take a little more work with Open Rocket.

Open Rocket visualization of the Reliant - still trying to decide decor (Click to enlarge).
So what am I looking for in my Geezer TARC entrees?

1) Simple and relatively easy to build - hard to cut straight with my eye condition, so I need fins with simple geometries, like swept trapezoids or deltas. No elliptical shapes, even though those are less draggy.

2) BT-70 based - BT-80 tubes have too much area, hence too much drag (remember we are trying to get to 856 feet this year, 56 feet higher than last year's mark). Centuri ST-18 tubes are "minimum diameter"; a regulation size egg will barely slip into them, but there is no room to pad the egg sides. OK if you land nose down, but bad if you hit on the side of the capsule, especially with 3 eggs inside. A BT-70 is a good compromise between the two. Another plus is that Apogee makes some relatively lightweight egg protection for this tube diameter.

3) A weight around 520-525 grams fully loaded without motor - The fact that this year's rockets have to be painted means added weight. Throw in the additional egg and higher altitude and you may find it extremely hard to make altitude with a BT-80 based bird. Too much drag, too much weight.

4) Assuming the weight range above and a typical rocket drag coefficient of about 0.75, a F motor should get me to about 850 feet. Open Rocket has the model going about 150 feet higher, but it always over estimates altitude.

1st-order altitude prediction for the Reliant (Click to enlarge).
The Reliant meets all these criteria. As you can see from the Open Rocket screen capture, it is very classic, very simple. The fins are balsa laminated with paper to keep weight low and increase durability, and the payload (capsule) section can be loaded from both the front and back to help in getting the eggs in and out - hopefully without breaking. The balsa coupler at the base of the capsule is augmented by a JT70 coupler wood glued to the front to help facilitate insertion of the Apogee 2 egg foam protector, and to add a little strength back there. A hardwood dowel will be glued into the back of the coupler, and the screw eye will be inserted into the dowel. That point - to which the dual parachutes are attached - will take a lot of stress at ejection, and I do not want the screw eye pulling loose (which would make me a prime candidate for the Flying Pig trophy). The rocket is powered by a single 24 mm composite, which is retained by the Estes plastic 24 mm screw-on retainer (available in 3 packs online).

Open Rocket design of the Reliant (Click to enlarge).
As I stated near the beginning of this post, I am pretty confident in this design - so I had to build it. The construction went quickly, and here she is, ready for primer when the stormy weather leaves. Getting started this early gives me the time to work up and build another design, probably a cluster of some sort. I am ahead of the game!

Reliant ready for primer (Click to enlarge).
And I am going to win this year... Mark these words!